Interview of Bishop Teodosije to Belgrade "Evening News" daily – Priština is trying to occupy our holy sites
INTERVIEW OF HIS GRACE BISHOP TEODOSIJE OF RAŠKA-PRIZREN TO “EVENING NEWS” BELGRADE DAILY, 25 OCTOBER 2015
The text of the interview on the Vecernje novosti site in Serbian:
Q: Serbian Monasteries in Kosovo and Metohija (*traditional Serbian name for Kosovo Province) are not museums but living religious communities. Which may be the first consequence of the Kosovo’s admission to UNESCO?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: A possible accession of Kosovo to UNESCO, which will be directly opposite to UN Resolution 1244, would be politically detrimental for this organization because the owner of all four UNESCO sites in Kosovo and Metohija is Serbian Orthodox Church and we are strongly against it. Possibility of a new institutional repression by will force us to oppose it with peaceful but resolute measures because we cannot allow our sites to be politically manipulated by Kosovo authorities. Kosovo officials already triumphantly publish on the Internet photos of Gračanica monastery and our other churches with a message over the photos – Kosovo in UNESSCO. This most vividly presents their true goals and insincere intentions.
Q: Do you believe guarantees which the Priština officials gave to UNESCO that they will not change the name of monasteries inscribed as Serbian heritage in the Catalog of this organization?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: The main argument which we could hear from Priština in Paris these days is that Kosovo will protect our Church sites. Knowing them too well, we are not convinced they are indeed ready to do that unless they previously agree to clearly and unequivocally commit themselves to the protection within the Brussels dialog, which they resolutely keep refusing. We will be continuing cooperation with international representatives, despite support which they give to Priština, hoping they will insist on protection of our heritage to open a dialog on this issue as soon as possible, regardless of a possible unjust decision in Paris.
Q: Possible admission of Kosovo to this Organization is seen by Serbian Orthodox Church as a continuation of a cultural repression against Serbian people by Priština authorities? What else might become a target of albanization of Serbian heritage in Kosovo and Metohija?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: You are right, the true goal of Kosovo institutions, which we could see from the recent draft law on cultural heritage which was sent by Kosovo Government to the Parliamentary procedure was to proclaim all heritage as ownership of „Republic of Kosovo“. International representatives immediatelly saw this draft as a discriminatory text and requested the draft law to be withdrawn urgently. However, Kosovo Government by recomending this law to the Parliament demonstrated its true intentions, particularly vis-à-vis our Church heritage on which they want to impose Kosovan and ultimately ethnic Albanian identity, changing history and misleading the world that there is true tolerance and freedom in Kosovo.
Q: There have been many talks of pending international guarantees for the status and property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo and Metohija, but this topic has not yet reached the Brussels dialog agenda. Is there readiness by EU to stand behind Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo in this case?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: I think that it is in the EU interest to open discussion on the Serbian Orthodox Church status in Kosovo and that the international community this time, as it was during the previous talks in Vienna, ready to get involved so that we can achieve a settlement on the long-term protection of the spiritual and cultural heritage of our people and our Church in this are which is sacred for us. Currently, the highest international officials have never brought this idea under question. I hope they will be able to meke representatives of Kosovo institutions in Priština understand that it is the best for them not to deepen conflict with the Church.
Q: Has Serbian Orthodox Church ever received any suggestions from Priština how to regulate the position of our Church and its property?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: European Union as a whole is status-neutral regarding Kosovo and non-recognizing countries are not satisfied with these political games with UNESCO as they know too well what precedent Kosovo independence represents for their countries. However, there are countries that recognized and support Kosovo but at the same time insist on protection of Serbian Church heritage. It is our intention to insist, no matter how the things may develop, to pursue the request by Serbian Government to Brussels to open as soon as possible a dialog on long-term measures of protection of the Serbian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo. Without that, we will not be able to have any cooperation with Priština on the issues of our cultural heritage in Kosovo.
Q: You have already called an admission of Kosovo to UNESCO as open occupation of Serbian holy sites in the Province. Can Church and state oppose that?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: It would be a kind of an attempt of open occupation because certain structures in Kosovo institutions work on historical revisionism in order to take away from us our centuries old heritage. We will, of course, oppose this with peaceful and civilized methods, using all our rights, primarily prayer and worship. Our sites are living places of worship and not monuments or museums, which some would like to see them. Every attempt of misuse will be presented to the world as an example of violation of our basic Christian religious rights. In situation when Islamism is growing in Kosovo everyday, an open war with our Church will be harmful for Priština and they know that well. That is why they should think well of a compromise and a dialog in Brussels on the issue of the heritage which is owned by Serbian Orthodox Church.
Q: Have there been attempts in Serbian Orthodox Church to raise her voice in official documents when their sites were presented as ethnic Albanian heritage? Has an occasional use of Albanian language in Visoki Dečani monastery liturgies a part of pressures of Priština, or that is necessary?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: So far there have been such sporadic attempts but we always promptly reacted through international representatives, and provocations by Priština were corrected by timely objections by EU and US. It is not in interest of Western countries to present Kosovo as an entity which is terrorizing a Christian Church and medieval monasteries and that is why we expect their necessary assistance in this process. Accession of Kosovo to UNESCO for many countries is seen more as an issue of balancing the situation in Kosovo which may slide out of control due to growing extremism and a dire economic situation. As for serving in Albanian we have often services in Greek and other languages depending which pilgrims are visiting our sites.
Q: You announced that your Diocese of Raška-Prizren will in case of admission of Kosovo in UNESCO suspend direct contacts with Kosovo officials and that problems with Priština you will be resolving through international mediation. Will that make the everyday life of the Church and your people more difficult in Kosovo?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: We have already suspended our contacts with Kosovo officials as a sign of protest because of their aggressive campaign. In many countries they spread propaganda by intentionally keeping silent on post-war destruction of our churches and speaking only of destroyed mosques in Kosovo (during the war). They were saying that all that was destroyed was reconstructed with their own means, which is not true. Many churches still lie in ruins and many Serbian cemeteries are still desecrated and devastated. We have a great wish to reconstruct that all but only within a mechanism, similar to that which we had with the Council of Europe, which was ultimately terminated because Kosovo authorities didn’t want to work with Institute of Monuments from Belgrade. Currently we are continuing our reconstruction of sites alone with help of the Serbian Government Office for Kosovo and Metohija, Russian Orthodox Church, EU Commmission, Norwegian Government and other benefactors throughout the world but not with Priština.
Q: Would you agree that your reaction against Kosovo’s accession to UNESCO is coming late and that crucial arguments have not been presented to the international public in time? Have also reactions of Kosovo Serb intellectuals and citizens have appeared too late?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: One can say that our diplomats did all that was in their power but a possible admission of Kosovo to UNESCO is not related to the issue of care for the cultural heritage, particularly not Priština’s capacity for that, but it is a part of political efforts to stabilize situation in Kosovo. Somebody needs that now when Priština has been compelled to accept the Special War Crime Court for KLA and Association of the Serbian Municipalities, although the latter is being blocked for days in the Parliament by teargas. These are political games but I believe there are well-minded people who listen to the voice of their conscious, although many who decide on Kosovo’s membership in UNESCO will regretfully just follow political instructions.
Q: Do you believe that after all this the Association of Serbian Municipalities will have political power to protect rights of Kosovo Serbs?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: If the Association of Serbian Municipalities is established in the meaningful way with concrete competencies which will not be symbolic but will have elements of executive power in the majority Serbian areas this can be an important factor to guarantee future of Serbs who wish to live in Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo Albanians would like the Association (Zajednica) to be a kind of NGO. I guess a considerable international pressure will be needed as well as politial efforts of our Government to prevent the Brussels Agreement losing its credibility.
Q: EU requests disbanding of provisional councils in Serbian municipalities that were apointed by Belgrade Government. Do you think this will be detrimental for the Serbian people if that would happen before establishing the Association of Municipalities?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: This is a good question for our political representatives. In any case, as long as the Association of Serbian Municipalities is not satisfactorily established, I guess it would be difficult to give up with Serbian existing institutions which in this moment provide conditions for normal life of our people in Kosovo and Metohija.
Q: What do you think when you hear some „sobering“ tones in Serbia regarding the Kosovo status and calling for „accepting the situation on the ground“?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: I am deeply worried with these harmful statements of some intellectuals performing important duties in Serbian society. With their “wishful thinking” which is deprived of God’s spirit and Christian hope they, willingly or not, they indirectly push Serbian people into defeatism and advocate collective leaving of Kosovo. I think this is a marginal minority which does not exactly know the situation in Kosovo and Metohija. I would like to believe that they are just isolated and individual opinions. These days, at the meeting in the Serbian Presidency all of us, including members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts demonstrated a firm and unified position regarding our position towards Kosovo and Metohija status and possible admission of Kosovo to UNESCO. People on responsible functions must be more careful when speaking on such sensitive issues. They must be aware how their statements might affect all of us who with lots of effortss still struggle to stay and live in this area. They need to know in which manner and in what time they can express their opinion on such essential issues and not to behave as if they live out of this space and time.
Q: One often hears that those who are majority in one area own the land. Would that mean that Kosovo is perhaps lost for Serbs? Do you consider this an appropriate comparison?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: Kosovo and Metohija does not have for us only geogrpahical importance. It is much more than that. Our Church and our faithful people have gone through many challenges in history. We survived in the past and hope with God’s help to survive now. That is why every dispair must be dispelled and one has to face problems with honesty, dignity, knowledge and sharing information on what our people with its Church have created here in Kosovo-Metohija for centuries. There will be always those to hear such words and show understanding. We should not think and approach things around us politically because for us Christians the optimism is not founded on politics but upon our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. After Crucifixion there came Resurrection. That is what our holy Church is teaching us. Her head is Christ himself and we are His members.
Q: Are you concerned that at certain moment of the negotiations with the EU recognition of Kosovo will be imposed to Belgrade as a condition on which there can be no bargaining and do you believe that those who are in power at that time will be able to accept it?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: As I have already said, at the recent meeting in the Serbian Presidency there was a clear and published statement that the Brussels dialog is not meant to lead towards recognition of Kosovo, but is in service of normalization of life of the Serbs in this part of Serbia where we live under specific circumstances. Firm position of our Church is that the red line in these negotiations is exactly the status of Kosovo. No one has right to sign anything which generations protected and cherished as a patrimony of our people. I strongly believe that our Government understands this and that it is acting well. For us Serbs in this moment it is important to have two main guidelines: First that our state representatives never and under no circumstances accept the self-proclaimed status of Kosovo, and the second, that we who live in this sacred land under all circumstances preserve our property, our presence, preserving our spiritual and national identity. If we suceed in this we will be able to face our ancestors with honor. That is the only and the best option for us in the current situation.
Q: There is no substantial return of displaced persons, the most of the Serbian property in Kosovo and Metohija is still usurped by Kosovo Albanians. Is it realistic to expect a more meaningful return of displaced Serbs or we can soon see, as Priština laws announce, that after the property that is not used after 20 years becomes state owned?
BISHOP TEODOSIJE: We are constantly working on encouraging return of displaced Serbs from Kosovo and Metohija. Perhaps in future that will not be dozens of thousands but every returnee family is a success. We believe that if the Association of Serbian Municipalities begins with its work much better conditions will be created for Serb returnees. Beside all our disagreements with Kosovo Albanians both they and we know that we cannot permanently settle down anything by force but only by dialog and respecting the rights of one another, which our religion is teaching us. Property of the Serbian people and our Church is sacrosanct for us and to the last breath we will be making efforts to provide conditions for returns and preservation of the overall Serbian property because private property is recognized in every democratic society. Despite currently difficult situation in our Kosovo and Metohija, we remain optimists with faith and Christian hope in God’s help.